Virtual Organizing Reveals Young, Rural Latinx Voters’ Climate Change Concerns

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer

Virtual organizing has allowed NGOs like NextGen America to focus their attention on rural, young BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voters — a demographic that has been historically underrepresented in elections in the U.S. These voters have brought climate change and sustainable farming to the forefront of the election in places like rural Iowa.  BIPOC rural voters want to fight climate change and encourage more sustainable and safe farming and agribusiness. For example, when Trump reopened meatpacking plants in April, it made Latinx and other immigrant workers more susceptible to coronavirus. Moreover, environmental disasters like the “derecho” wind storm, which destroyed $4B in crops in Iowa alone, made climate change a top issue for rural voters.

Why this Matters:   In 2018, only 2 percent of rural voters ages 18 to 29 voted in the midterm elections, according to a report from Tufts’ Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. The report explains that these voters tend to live in “civic deserts,” — places where aspiring voters aren’t encouraged or don’t have the tools to get engaged. 60% of rural millennials live in civic deserts, and 1/3 of these rural millennials do not have steady access to the internet or cell phone service.  Because this demographic consistently gets ignored, it paints a misleading picture of what REALLY matters to rural voters. But that is changing — and it may be enough to make a difference in Iowa this election.

Reaching an Important Demographic

States like Iowa have traditionally disregarded their young Latinx voters — for instance, in 2002, lawmakers voted to make English the state’s official language, leaving voting material untranslated and inaccessible to a growing rural Latinx population, the largest nonwhite demographic in the state.  This trend reflects across other states as well. An influx of immigrants into rural counties has slowed population loss in these areas, and large rural states such as Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon have all seen growth in Latinx populations in the last decade.

Get Out the Vote organizations have picked up the slack, translating voting instructions and candidate information, and distributing it to rural voters. While the pandemic has slowed many of these efforts down — for example, many voter’s advocacy organizations usually go to universities, conferences, and knocking on doors to reach young rural voters — organizing online has allowed for new ways of reaching out to voters.  For example, 18by.vote, a voting organization focused on young people, has expanded their fellowship program, putting new fellows in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma in order to connect with young rural voters as directly as possible. These efforts could prove integral to bringing climate change legislation to fruition, even in a fraught political landscape.

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